Blog comments as virtual focus groups

18 07 2007

It’s incredibly frustrating to read comments by non-library users on what they think of libraries, especially compared to bookstores. Take the following, posted by scunning (#14) on the Freakonomic’s blog post, If Public Libraries Didn’t Exist, Could You Start One Today?: (via)

Even if one doesn’t read an entire novel at the bookstore, they still replicate many of the same functions of the library, like house a diverse inventory of books, allow browsing by consumers in a comfortable atmosphere, and have reading programs for children…booksellers are doing a lot – perhaps even more – for encouraging reading in the US than public libraries. The selection at your average B&N swamps the average public library, and will continue to do so as B&N and other bigbox booksellers continue to expand into the suburbs, inner cities, and small towns.

It’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out, right? This commenter has already labeled himself as a “collector” who buys all his books from online retailers. Which indicates that he does not use the library (although he does get things for his children at libraries). So how can he possibly “know” that the average B&N has a bigger selection than the average library? What is the average library?

But wait… I’m not stepping on that soapbox today.

Today, I want to remind you that Mr. Scunning is a potential library user. I want to remind you that every commenter on the Freakonomics Blog for this post (or any post anywhere, really) is a potential library user. By writing a post on a non-library related blog, Freakonomics has, essentially, created a virtual focus group for us. That’s the data.

Instead of spending time writing up a point-by-point rebuttal to those comments (infuriating though they may be), why not re-cast them? What if you got those comments in your suggestion (in)box at your library? Hopefully you wouldn’t disregard them… After all, this [potential] patron took the time to tell you where they thought the library was weak. That gives you the opportunity to figure out a way to fix it.

There is some incredibly valuable information just waiting to be harvested from those comments. Our patrons and potential patrons may not always come to us to tell us what they think of our services, and any comment they leave on a library-related (heck, even bookstore-related) post can help us do a better job of serving our patrons, including those who don’t use us (yet).

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3 responses

19 07 2007
Library Revolution » Blog Archive » Comments Dropping into Your Virtual Suggestion Box

[…] Take a look at this excellent post at Library Nation. […]

19 07 2007
Emily

Bravo! Great post!

3 08 2007
Woeful

Yeah, I read it too and find the commenter’s opinions valuable as well. I was however, glad to read such an overwhelming groundswell of support from people for libraries in the comments they made. Dubner did raise an interesting question though in light of today’s legal climate…

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